Worry too much? It’s hard to know where the cut off is between worrying and worrying excessively. The times we live in make it nearly impossible to not worry at all. It doesn’t matter how laid-back you are because even the most easy-going person is going to have some worries.
But when worrying uses up the majority of your brainpower and becomes a huge part of your life—that’s when you have to find a way to ease up on it. When you worry too much it’s bad for your health and your emotional well-being.
Here’s the thing about when you worry too much; it’s interconnected with fear. If you worry too much, you can get fearful, and if you’re afraid, you fear can be intensified by worry. Fear can be useful when you’re in survival mode, but if it’s just an ordinary day, you don’t want fear to infect your life because that’s when it controls and hurts you.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the other members of the Worry Crowd: Anxiety and stress. Worry enough and you can experience all three of them: Fear, anxiety, and stress—all at the same time!
If you had a habit you knew was bad for you, you’d want to do something about it. If you smoked, you’d get help, or if you only ate crap food, you’d try to get some fruits and vegetables in your diet—it just makes sense. You know that when you worry too much it isn’t good for you, but you’re likely here because you don’t know how to stop it. Here’s what to do when you worry too much. Instead, use that energy to do something good for yourself.
If You Worry Too Much, Here's What You Do
Take some alone time:
Sometimes the best thing we can to start the healing process is to find somewhere we can be by ourselves, slow down, and think. If you’re comfortable with talking to yourself, find a comfortable place where you can speak your thoughts out loud. Hearing your words can help you to process what’s making you worrisome.
“Find a relaxing spot for you, whether it is in your bedroom, or in nature, find a spot that feels safe to you,” says Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR. “Ask yourself what is going on. Listen to yourself. And then, look at your to-do list. Look long and hard. Many times, anxiety has to do with not getting enough rest, time alone, or unstructured time.”
If you’re worried about something that happened in the past or something that might happen in the future, you’re wasting your energy. Let the past go and focus on the now. “Oftentimes anxiety occurs because of worry about the future and worst-case scenarios that could occur, which can take you away from the present moment,” says Dr. Roxy Zarrabi, Psy.D. “Tuning into the present moment and observing your thoughts can change your relationship with your thoughts so that you don’t get caught up in them.”
Clarify what’s worrying you:
There are times when we view other people’s problems as our own and not just our loved ones. If you’re especially compassionate, it may feel natural to you to shoulder someone else’s burden. Ultimately, it will be more helpful to them if you can distance yourself a bit from their problem. If your worries are solidly your own, are you looking at them with a clear head?
“The first step in managing worry is to identify the worrying thoughts,” says licensed clinical professional counselor, Amanda Petrik-Gardner. “Typically, anxious thoughts are inaccurate, unrealistic, and unhelpful. If you are able to identify the inaccuracy of these thoughts, you are ready to then challenge them.”
Schedule worry time:
Rather than spending all your time worrying, schedule time to do it. Licensed psychologist and owner of The Baltimore Therapy Group, Heather Z. Lyons, Ph.D. says, “Worry time should be set at a specific time each day for a specific duration. Maybe that duration is 15 or 20 minutes. When you find yourself worrying at other times, briefly jot down the concern so that you can come back to it during your worry time. Sometimes, people find that when they come back to their list during their worry time, the list doesn’t hold the same anxiety it did for them in the moment.”
Make a list of what you can and can’t control:
It can be empowering to know exactly what you can change and where you should direct your focus. If you know you have no control over something, you may need to just let it go and see what happens. Dr. Roxy Zarrabi says, “Worrying frequently results from uncertainty and a perceived lack of control. One way to help combat this uncertainty is to make a list of the things you can control vs. the things you can’t control, then make a plan to focus primarily on the things you can control.”
Ignore the what-ifs:
Thinking about the what-ifs is a waste of your time. The keyword “if” gives it away. If isn’t definite and if doesn’t guarantee that it will happen. In regards to the what- ifs, Lucy Harris says, “Prevent your what-if’s from solidifying a thought and beat them to the punch with something positive. Example: Replace “what if something goes wrong?” with “What if I find something I really love?”
Catastrophizing is irrationally believing that something is far worse than it is or thinking that the results of an action will be catastrophic. When we worry, we can get so focused on what it is that’s causing us to worry that we make it much worse than it actually is. Instead of going to the worst-case scenario, take a few breaths, and attempt to clear your mind. Try to avoid overthinking because if you think about anything long enough, you can find all its negative elements.
Avoid internalizing your feelings:
If you’re spending a great deal of your time worrying, pretending that you’re not worrying won’t help you in the end. “You don’t want to push your worries away because they will more than likely come back at you tenfold,” Harris says. “You need to recognize them and move on. This allows you to deal with your worries in a healthier manner which will allow you to gradually progress from excessive worrying.”
Write it out:
There is something very therapeutic and clarifying about writing out your worries. It can be the first step in your process or the last—it doesn’t matter as long as you get the words down. “Put it to paper. In the moment of worry, your brain is not thinking logically; your primal brain has taken over. It [primal brain] catastrophizes everything and you begin to worry. You are feeding it, so it continues to look for more things to worry about,” says life coach Vikki Louise. “Write it down. Give it a voice. Once you have finished putting pen to paper, breathe. Take a pause, then read over everything you have written.”
“Grounding techniques can be really helpful when dealing with excessive worry, stress, anxiety, or overwhelm,” says Ashley Rachel. “Grounding techniques involve using the five senses to bring you into the present moment awareness. Usually, when we are worried, we get very ‘in our heads.’ Grounding techniques take us out of our heads and into the moment decreasing our worries. Examples of grounding techniques are sniffing your favorite scents, counting five red things you can see in a room, or listening to your favorite music.”
Try to see things from a different perspective:
There are times when we take things personally that may have little to do with us. If we try to look at our worries with a different point of view, they may not look quite as serious. “Remind yourself that thoughts are not facts,” says Dr. Zarrabi. “Reflect on how often the issues you have worried about in the past actually resulted in worst-case scenarios occurring and whether the issue you are worried about now will matter in a few years.” Time usually gives us perspective, so why not hurry it a little and look at your worries in a new light?
Create a stress-free zone in your home:
Your home should be your safe place, so make sure that it’s someplace you can go to that will help you relax and unwind. “Your ‘stress-free zone’ should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings (for before or after your practice), meditation beads, candles, or music,” says mindfulness trainer, Joy Rains. “Taking the time to pause—even for a few minutes a day—can go a long way towards managing stress.”
Move your body:
One of the best ways to clear your mind of worries is to get physical. Take a hike, workout at the gym, or go to your favorite dance class. Worrying is challenging when you’re focusing on your breathing and getting the steps right. Dr. Zarrabi says, “When you’re worrying a lot and feel stuck, one of the most helpful things you can do is get out of your head and into your body with some quick physical exercise.”
Do something for others:
Volunteering helps you to switch your focus from your worries to helping others. “Helping someone else out is a wonderful way to move your attention from the thoughts of excessive worry and concern,” says Angel M. Hoodye, MS., LPC-S, CART. “When you take the time to volunteer, it’s a win-win. The person in need of your assistance is able to receive help and you get to feel awesome in being a part of the positive experience for them.”
Take care of yourself:
If you worry too much, it can take a toll on you, so put treating yourself well at the top of your list. Make sure that you’re sleeping enough, drinking plenty of water, exercising, and eating right. If you feel better, you’ll be better able to handle and (hopefully) lessen the worry. Make positive choices that support your well-being.
Ask for help:
Some things are too big to handle on our own, so it’s a great idea to talk to someone about your feelings and how they’re disrupting your life. Arrange a time to talk to an understanding friend or schedule an appointment with a therapist. There’s absolutely no shame in asking for help and it could make all the difference when you worry too much and want to change.
Every one of us has worries. You may be a parent and worry about your kids, you may worry about your relationship or lack of a relationship, or you may worry about losing your job or providing for a financial future. There will always be things to worry about, but it’s how you manage those worries that make all the difference.